PHILADELPHIA — Back in December, we here at NBA.com were asked to make predictions for the 2011-12 awards. In making a pick for Most Improved Player, I thought to myself how much more comfortable and confident the Sixers’ Evan Turner looked in a couple of preseason games. And though I generally don’t believe that second-year players should be considered for Most Improved, I thought that a big season from Turner would earn him the award among voters in the media.
When the games counted, Turner was a part of a unit (along with Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young) that gave the Sixers a lot of offensive punch off the bench, as the team started the season 20-9. But while Turner’s shooting (46.3 percent) was improved from his rookie season (41.8 percent), his production was inconsistent, and both Williams and Young were more responsible for the Sixers’ success.
Then, against a tougher schedule, the Sixers hit the skids, losing five straight games before the All-Star break, with Turner shooting a miserable 8-for-34 (23.5 percent). And when things didn’t improve much after the break, coach Doug Collins decided to make a change.
He put Turner in the starting lineup and made him the team’s point guard.
Turner shot just 1-for-12 in his first start of the season, a 97-93 loss in Milwaukee on Monday. But the four-man unit of Turner, Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand (there’s a revolving door at the center spot until Spencer Hawes is healthy again) was a plus-2 in 17 minutes.
On Wednesday against the Celtics, Turner had the best game of his career, scoring 26 points on 11-for-19 shooting in a blowout victory. And all of a sudden, Collins looked like a genius.
But it must be noted that Turner’s big night came against a team that was clearly gassed after two overtime games in the previous three days. And going forward, the Sixers don’t necessarily need big nights from Turner. They need consistency.
We do know that Turner’s role will be consistent. “We’ve got to play an extended period of time with he and ‘Dre together,” Collins said Wednesday. “And that’s what I’m locked into. Unless there’s an injury, I’m finishing the year with those two guys playing together.”
Before Monday, Iguodala and Turner had averaged just over 11 minutes together per game. Through Wednesday, the Sixers are a plus-30 in the pair’s 437 minutes, with offensive and defensive numbers not much different than their overall numbers. But they’re a minus-3 in 235 minutes with Holiday on the floor as well, not very good offensively.
Iguodala’s usage rate does go down a good deal when Turner is on the floor. And he has been a slightly more efficient scorer too, though Turner has assisted on just five of Iguodala’s 50 field goals in those 437 minutes. Overall, Turner has a lower assist rate than Holiday, Iguodala, and even Hawes. And almost 60 percent of his own field goals have been unassisted.
But really, Turner’s role as point guard isn’t about his passing skills, but rather his need to control the ball and create baskets for himself. “When he’s got that ball in his hands, he’s a totally different player,” Collins said.
Turner is also one of the best rebounding guards in the league. And Collins likes that the Sixers can get into their fast break without a pass whenever Turner, Holiday, or Iguodala grab a rebound. The same can’t be said for Jodie Meeks, whom Turner replaced in the starting lineup.
Further, the Sixers are 2-12 in games decided by seven points or less, in desperate need of somebody to make plays in late-game situations. And Turner has the ability to be that guy.